DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
You do not know me. There is no reason you should. I am only the operator of a little Italian restaurant in Burlington, Vt., a 43-year-old New England Democrat carrying on my family's business and raising a family of my own. Not very unusual. But some of your people have been after me lately.
I have troubled them, you see, because I am deeply troubled myself. I am one of the 3,331 delegates who will be at the Democratic National Convention in a couple of weeks, the first national party convention I will ever have attended, and I am not sure who I will vote for when I get there. When I was selected as a delegate at our state party convention in May, I was among those pledged to your renomination. I didn't actually sign the pledge card; the warm-up speeches took so long that I had to get back to my restaurant before I had a chance to sign anything or, for that matter, even vote for myself. But everybody knew I was running on the Carter slate, as I had done when I lost four years ago; and I am not trying to say otherwise.
I do not take such commitments lightly. I value my word as highly as anyone else does theirs. My commitment to your renomination at that time was genuine. But that was May and the convention vote will be in August and circumstances have been changing. My second thoughts today are just as genuine as was my original commitment to you and the one I made four years ago.
While I certainly don't expect you to approve of these new doubts of mine, I would hope that you could at least understand them. I do not mean to be "clever" when I say that you have had a good number of second thoughts yourself on vital public questions, from the intention of the Soviet Union to the scope of the federal budget.
Whether or not I personally approve of these policies, I do not doubt the sincerity of your changes of heart. Circumstances and people do change. I hope that you do not doubt that this is genuinely true in my case as well.
Your people, however, are another matter. Some of them are understandably irritated by my doubts, including Vermont State Sen. Esther Sorrell, who heads your forces inour state. In fact, she told The Boston Globe recently that if I plan to vote for anyone but you, I will be thrown out of our delegation.
I have to tell you that, while I understand her annoyance, her statement Moreover, I am especially concerned about the proposed convention rule she cited, the one we will be fighting over before the balloons start falling in Manhattan. Quite frankly, I view your people's effort to push through this rule as an attempt to gag and threaten an awful lot of delegates.
I am no genius on parliamentary fine points, but as I understand it the convention will be governed by the rules that it adopts itself -- not by the "temporary" rules issued by your people at the Democratic National Committee and endorsed by your people on the convention's rules committee. Well, I do not intend to vote for their rule, no matter which candidate I end up voting for in the nominating process itself.
Please understand that nobody who selected me as a Vermont delegate knew or said anything about that rule. The question was never raised at the time. In fact, I would be willing to wager that few conventions, knew anything about it either.
But be that as it may, I do not consider myself obligated to vote for any particular rule, and especially not one in which I would be approving of tying my own hands and holding a club over my own head. I gather no delegates to our party's national conventions have ever been asked to entertain such notions before, and I, for one, am for keeping it that way.
I know: The "binding" rule your people are attempting to get adopted by the convention is part of the party's "reform" efforts of recent years. I have gotten the material your people have mailed on this point, along with some phone calls from your poeple and Sen. Kennedy's. I would guess that I would have been told the same thing had been able to come to the White House with others invited for last Friday. (I felt greatly honored by the invitation, incidentally, and my problem had nothing to do with my vote at the convention. I just can't take off and leave the restaurant these days.)
Essentially, your side has been telling me that the "binding" rule is intended to insure that the voices of the people who elected delegates are decisive at the convention, that there will be an end to deals cut in what the presses like to call "smoke-filled rooms." I certainly sympathize with that. I don't like the people being shut out. Who in American politics, from the dog catcher up, ever announced in favor of "cutting out the people"? The "reformers" have no monopoly on that one.
First let me say, however, that I am not a member of the smoke-filled-room club. Although I have been involved in Democratic Party politics up here since 1962, I don't make kings, just spaghetti.
More importantly, though, I wonder whether those "people" they are May. To begin with, many of those who voted at our state party not have won if most of them hadn't voted for me. But "the people" I think about beyond that are those who were indeed committed to your slate at the time. That one really troubles me.
Like you and me, they , too, can have legitimate second thoughts about a lot of things, and without feeling that they are "faithless" individuals. From what I read, your standing in the polls suggests that that is not only happening here in Vermont but elsewhere as well. I know: Polls can be fickle, unreliable things. People change by the time it comes to voting (which, of course, is precisely my own point). I don't rely solely on polls.
What moves me more are two things: what I see outside my window and what I hear form an awful lot of those people we are talking about up here.
Across the street from my restaurant, you see, are the state unemployment and welfare offices, and what I have been noticing there for some time are longer and longer lines, longer than I have ever seen before. What I also see are schoolage children doing nothing during the summer because there are no jobs for them either. That is where my troubled feelings really began.
I realize that you cannot just magically create jobs for everyone. But I find it hard to believe that more could not have been done, that the federal role in the economy could not have been done, that the federal role in the economy could not have been managed better, that programs for these people could not have been improved.
I have also read with pain your administration's expectations that the national unemployment rate will climb to about 8.5 percent by the end of the year. I am not among those who think you can "get that issue out of the way" by acknowledging it early. I will see those lines growing still longer outside my window tomorrow and the next month and in December, and I will be talking to a lot of those people, as I have been in the past. They are hurting, as are others I talk to from the Social Security lines next door to the restaurant .
A number of other things have also been troubling me lately, from inflation to the handling of the Iran hostage situation to oil company profits to your brother Billy's Libya connections, to name some. They meet in my week -- professinals, state workers, housewives, the unemployed, other small business operators, friends and neighbors.
The Bove's Restaurant poll, of course, is not exactly your scientific survey, but nonetheless an awful lot of these people believe that a Reagan-Bush ticket will defeat Carter-Mondale in November. At this point, I am afraid that I tend to agree with them. I know that you have been calling the Reagan proposals, particularly his economic notions, "simplistic." I agree with you about that. But I can't see how that's the kind of criticism that wins elections.
At any rate, I don't see how I am supposed to ignore all this -- the opinions of the people up here today, my own judgments today, the national polls today -- when I arrive at the convention in New York City. What is "the right thing to do"? That's just not as simple, clear-cut a decision as your people have been suggesting to me. It's a very difficult one for me at least, and I don't know what I will do.
I do know, however, that I cannot in good conscience vote to forbid myself from raising these questions when I get there, and I would hope that others will be allowed to speak their minds as well, to tell me how they and the people in their states feel in August. That would be very important for me to know before I decide what I must do with my vote.